Saturday, September 15, 2018

Skyship Spells VIII

Welcome to the next 3 D&D BECMI spells:
1. Guile & Treachery 
2. Artificer's Hold Distortion
3. Summon Crew
        Comments and suggestions are helpful to address loopholes and other design clunkers. Click here for the previous three spells.

You'll never guess how many HD they have.
Guile & Treachery
Spell Level: 4 (School of Illusion)
Range: Own vessel
Duration: Permanent until dispelled
Effect: Makes a skyship look like another

                The appearance of a vessel is altered so that it can be mistaken for another that the caster has already seen (no saving throw). The emulated skyship must be of the approximately the same size as the spell’s recipient (+/–25% hull length). The caster’s experience determines how close to the recipient one must sail before discovering the subterfuge. The illusion’s minimum viewing distance is 200 yards minus 5 per experience level. The effect is dismissed at the caster’s discretion, or when observed at less than the minimum viewing distance, or if any attack on affected viewers is initiated from the altered skyship (q.v. invisibility spell). Dispelling magic at any point of the recipient will remove the entire effect. Using a spyglass or some other device may enable a closer look, which will result in the observed crew to appear in the correct uniforms.
                Though immune to the spell’s effect, wildlife and creatures unable to realize the difference between one skyship or another cannot dispel the illusion when approaching. On the other hand, with a score of 1 on a d6 roll, a victim familiar with the emulated vessel may be able to sense something odd and become suspicious, i.e. the caster failed to remember some details correctly (make one single roll if multiple victims are eligible). If absolutely certain the emulated vessel cannot possibly be there (the crew just saw this skyship somewhere else, or it was destroyed sometime after caster had seen it), then the victim should be fully aware that trickery is afoot.

Artificer’s Hold Distortion
Spell Level: 6 (School of Enchantment)
Range: Own vessel
Duration: Permanent until dismissed or dispelled
Effect: Enlarges the hold beyond ship’s physical dimensions

                A skyship’s hold may be enlarged despite the actual size of the vessel’s hull. The effect cannot be observed from outside the skyship. The actual volume of the spell’s recipient increases +10% for every 3 experience level of the caster (rounded down), therefore +30% at 11th level up to +120% at 36th level. A skyship requires reinforced levitating enchantments on its hull in order to carry the additional cargo weight, at the referee’s discretion. For the sake of safety, some wizardly ship artificers intentionally cast multiple spells; although their effects are not cumulative, each must be dismissed or dispelled separately to avoid tragic repercussions (see below). This spell was written specifically so that redundant instances cannot all be dispelled at once (the next one is triggered when the previous one fails).
                Catastrophic consequences will result from dismissing or dispelling the effect while merchandise fills the ship’s hold. A saving throw must be rolled for the skyship (click here for details on saving throws). If the roll succeeds, merchandise is crushed; non-compressible materials, however, will violently erupt through openings, wounding or killing anyone in the way, or destroying anything else obstructing the path. If the roll fails, the ship sustains damage to its hull and decks while excess merchandise falls out through the cracks; subtract the score needed from the score rolled and multiply the remainder by 5. Expressed as a percentage of the undamaged vessels’ total structural points, this result is the amount of damage inflicted to the hull and decks. At the referee’s discretion, lightly built vessels (like Alorean clippers) should save with a –1 penalty; warships with reinforced hulls should command a +1 bonus, while an ironclad could receive a +2 bonus. Critical failure results in the ship sustaining 90% structural damage.

Summon Crew
Spell Level: 6 (Schools of Invocation or Necromancy)
Range: Own vessel
Duration: Until sunset (or dawn)
Effect: Summons a temporary skyship crew

                The invocation brings into being the simulacrum of a live crew, enough to maneuver a vessel. The simulacra look almost exactly like the caster, although in attires appropriate to their stations aboard the caster’s vessel and with minor variations (facial hair, complexion, size, fitness, age, etc.) Though they appear to be sentient, their crew skills are limited to the caster’s own, and if addressed, they respond in the manner the caster would because they are nothing but figments of their creator’s mind. In all other respects, they fight and save as ½ Hit Die creatures; each is dismissed when sustaining any sort of damage. Horrid screams and spectacular death scenes are well within the scope of the invocation. This version of the spell ends at sunset (or after 16 hours in the Great Void). It can freely dismissed by the caster.
                The necromantic version brings into existence a skeleton crew. They behave much in the manner of the simulacra described above, including talking back and acting out with much flourish. Though they possess the same immunities as skeletons and other undead creatures, a cleric can Turn necromantic simulacra as normal skeletons. This version of the spell ends at dawn (or after 16 hours in the Great Void), or when dismissed by the caster.
                Neither version can truly be dispelled, although each simulacrum can be, separately. They can board another vessel, but cannot venture more than 100 yards from their own (they vanish beyond that range). Their armor classes are locked at 7, ability scores at 9, and morale ratings at 8 (skeletons remain immune to fear). Multiple spells aren't cumulative, in terms of increasing crew numbers. This spell was created by a penny-pinching wizardly actor who needed unpaid extras to populate his stage; he later dabbled in necromancy, after which he turned into a phantom and his opera house was burned to the ground.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A Mage's Conundrum

As I learned to produce video presentations, a number of ideas crossed my mind about what this could lead to. Thinking outside the box -- though I'm not a professional techie in audio-visual arts, far from that, or a seasoned voiceover actor, I can still do a few things that could turn out to be entertaining. I guess it's a learning process.

I recently completed a video for my upcoming project, after umpteen tries and recourse to an app to alter my voice (since mine remains desperately tinny and somewhat geeky despite my best efforts). The result sounds a tad artificial, but nonetheless a bit more bearable than the original, at least to my ear. I suppose the brand new microphone encouraged me to look for more trouble than anyone deserves (you or me).

Click on this image to launch video
Here's an example of a (very short) reading from my upcoming story. I may do more of these as a way get used to enounce written text, which isn't a natural thing for me... yet. And yes, you are entitled to cringe at the concept. I do. Thankfully, Blogspot limits direct uploads to files less than 100 megs (thus do I rely on Youtube links instead).

I brought up another idea to the Mystara Reborn chat group on Facebook about a series of recordings during which I'd read the names of places and characters from that game world. It seemed a popular suggestion. So, as soon as I can free some time from my present project, I'll apply the idea, perhaps on a per-kingdom basis. I may do this as well for the world of Calidar, for good measure. If you're unfamiliar with Mystara Reborn, click on the image below.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Skyship Spells VII

Welcome to the next 3 D&D BECMI spells:
1. Spectral Sail 
2. Captain's Jinx
3. Helmsman's Glory
        Comments and suggestions are helpful to address loopholes and other design clunkers. Click here for the previous three spells.


Spectral Sail
Spell Level: 5 (School of Invocation)
Range: 90’
Duration: Permanent until dismissed, dispelled, or damaged
Effect: Creates an incorporeal sail

The caster brings into existence one or more ghostlike sails capable of capturing atmospheric and ethereal winds, enabling navigation through normal skies and the Great Void. These sails require a frame upon which to be fastened, such as masts and yardarms. When acquired, the spell engenders enough sails to complement three masts and their yardarms on a single vessel. For every 3 experience levels thereafter, additional sails may be summoned for another mast and its yardarms. The caster has the ability to furl, unfurl, and trim all spectral sails at once or separately. Spectral sails are immune to non-magical damage, although they will be dispelled if their yardarms or theirs masts are broken. Though they do not tear under strong atmospheric winds, they may do so in an ethereal storm. Any magical damage will remove a spectral sail. This spell is part of the enchantment process needed to produce permanently magical canvas.

Top Illustration: Kevin Yan, Seven Days to the Grave © 2008, Paizo Publishing, LLC

Captain’s Jinx
Spell Level: 2 (School of Illusion)
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 encounter
Effect: Gives a skyship the appearance of erratic maneuvering

This spell modifies the way observers outside the skyship perceive its movement (no save). The skyship appears to maneuver in unpredictable ways, skidding and jinking to confuse attackers. As a result, the vessel gains a +2 bonus to its saving throws and to its armor class versus missile weapons. The recipient also gains a saving throw against magical attacks that don’t normally involve one. If the roll succeeds, the magical attack fails entirely. See Skyship Saving Throws for more detail on the subject. The effect lasts until dismissed, dispelled, or until no pursuer remains within attack range. Blind creatures are immune to Captains’ Jinxes. Multiple spells do not cumulate.

Helmsman’s Glory
Spell Level: 2 (School of Alteration)
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 round
Effect: Enables an impossible ship maneuver

When cast on a skyship’s helmsman, the spell enables the recipient to perform an otherwise impossible maneuver. Examples include the “drunken pirate” (a turn maneuver one hexside more than what the skyship ought to be able to perform), the “scorpion’s sting” (the skyship suddenly skids round its midship to shoot a broadside at a pursuer with a –2 penalty to hit, and then resumes its original heading at the end of the same round without loss of speed), or the “griffon’s gambit” (moving 60˚ port or starboard without modifying the vessel’s bearing)

Monday, September 3, 2018

Skyship Spells VI

Illustration: Sacred Scroll of Destination
Welcome to the next 3 D&D BECMI spells:
1. Protection from Rot 
2. Air Anchor
3. Captain's Instant Skiff
        Comments and suggestions are helpful to address loopholes and other design clunkers. Click here for the previous three spells.


Protection from Rot*
Spell Level: 1 (School of Abjuration)
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 Week
Effect: Protects one organic object or an area from decay

                This spell may be applied to organic parts of a single object normally fitting together (such as slats in a barrel, food or liquid inside a container, or leather armor for example) or to the surface of a structure (such a ship’s hull or a wooden wall) up to 90sqft. + 9sqft. per experience level. Though it does not undo existing rot damage or keep out vermin, the protection prevents further decay.
                The reversed spell, Cause Rot, is relevant to the School of Necromancy. It either spoils or destroys organic parts of a single object, or inflicts 1d6 rot damage + 2d6 for every 5 experience levels, creating a breach about 3’ across for every 10 points of damage. Enchanted objects and structures may save vs. spells; if the roll succeeds, the rot attack fails. The reversed spell does not affect living life forms or undead creatures, but may be used to make the time of one’s death look earlier than actual.
                Alorean gnomes originally created this spell for use aboard elven clippers. A rare spell on Calidar, its original script requires skill in ancient gnomish in addition to being able to decipher magic. Ancient gnomish does not translate well into other arcane languages. Translated spells can malfunction—odds: 30% chance minus the caster’s Intelligence bonus times 5. Detecting magic is needed to verify whether the protection failed.

Air Anchor
Spell Level: 3 (School of Invocation)
Range: 100’ + 5’ per experience level
Duration: 4 Turns per experience level
Effect: Summons a temporary air anchor

                A skyship’s air anchor is similar in its intent to a seagoing vessel’s anchor. Conventional air anchors are enchanted items that prevent a skyship from drifting in the wind. Their power can be switched on or off with a command word when deployed. The spell can be used to replace the enchanted item, at least temporarily, or it can be part of the permanent enchantment to build an air anchor. When releasing the spell, the caster determines the exact point where the air anchor appears and to what part of the caster’s skyship it attaches. The air anchor remains active until the spell ends, until dismissed by the caster, or until dispelled.

Captain’s Instant Skiff
Spell Level: 5 (School of Invocation)
Range: 10’
Duration: 1 hour per experience level
Effect: Creates a flying skiff

                The flying skiff is a wooden rowboat large enough for 4 passengers and their backpacks. The skiff can be larger at higher levels (add 2 passengers for every 6 levels above 9th). The vessel moves and maneuvers as suggested with a flying spell. The caster (or whomever the spell was directed at) can maneuver the skiff through concentration. The skiff can be fitted with a small sail and a magical rudder, allowing other passengers to control the skiff’s speed and direction.
                Combat Statistics: AC8, 3 hit points per passenger capacity, MV 360’ (120’) or by sailing speed if fitted with a sail, Save as F1 (click here for more details on skyship saving throws). The skiff is dispelled when damage exceeds the skiff’s hit point rating. Additional magic is required to render a skiff fit to navigate the Great Void.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Coming up Soon

It's that time again... work is officially underway on a new Kickstarter event. Some of you hate these reminders. Understandable. So do I. But then, without them and without crowdfunding, there wouldn't be a new Gazetteer. So, sorry for the advance nagging and the inevitable follow ups.

What's this new project?

Remember the Voyage of the Princess Ark episodes from Dragon Magazine? "On Wings of Darkness" blends a new skyship adventure in a 132 pg. geographic Gazetteer packed with info about a realm of wizards and demons.

Going through the table of contents, the following chapters follow the introductory story:

  • History of Caldwen (with a huge timeline of events)
  • Lay of the Land (geography, local culture, economy)
  • Intrigues of the Magi (politics and the military)
  • Behind the curtains (brotherhoods and secret sects)
  • A Cast of Many (major NPCs)
  • Master & Servant (everything about demons)
  • Beasties in the Dark (monsters of Caldwen)
  • At the Heart of Magic (about schools of magic)
  • Secrets of the Cabals (guilds of wizards, specialty magic)
  • Blood of the World Soul (about an order of mage-knights)
  • Sky City of Arcanial (a flying city & encounter ideas)

This comes with lots of maps including Thorfinn Tait's magnificent geographic cartography. The manuscript is complete. Crowdfunding is essentially for the purpose of acquiring decent art. On Wings of Darkness is system neutral and should work with most roleplaying games. A link should become available to view the Kickstarter page prior to its launch, later in September.

All hands on deck!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Improving Ability Scores

Illustration: Caravan Studio ©2013 Wizard of the Coast LLC.
Someone asked recently on a D&D BECMI chat group about house rules. I mentioned I was thinking of improving ability scores during the life of a character. Ideally, I wanted to see an increase in the cost of bumping up a score reflecting not only the character’s experience level, but also how high the score was at the time.

Before addressing that goal, I also felt it was necessary to have another look at how to generate initial ability scores. Everyone has their own method. Perhaps one of the most common house rules involves rolling 4d6 per stat, keeping the best three, and reassigning the six scores as desired. Basic 3d6 rolls amount to 10.5 averages, a bit higher with the 4d6-keep-three routine (it’s all very dicey). For my method, I settled on 11, or 66 points for all six stats combined. From this point forward, players can assign these 66 points entirely as they see fit. This allows one really high ability score at the expense of one or two others well below average. Overall, it makes for rather average (read: “blah”) characters from many players’ points of view. This isn’t necessarily bad, at least in a roleplaying sense—I’ll get back to this later. On the other hand:
  • 1. All players start with the same potential
  • 2. These abilities can be improved later on

 “What? I don’t have everything 13+ with at least two 18s? Oh, man!”

The concept is that players could trade off some of their characters’ accumulated XPs in exchange for boosting an ability score. This trade-off is fine so long as it doesn’t bump a character to a lower experience level than the one already attained (I doubt anyone will disagree with this.) The cost in XPs is listed as a percentage of accumulated XPs, listed in the chart below.

“If you suck at maths, don’t worry, there’s another solution.”

Ability Scores: Relative XP Costs

For example: You have a 2nd level fighter currently with 2,500 XPs; you wish to bump the Strength ability from 17 to 18, it’ll cost 20% of the fighter’s accumulated XPs. This would cost 500 XPs, leaving the character with 2,000 XPs. Yay! Increase your Strength bonus right away, you little rascal!

The Simpler Approach: There is a reason why I mentioned a simpler system. First off, you might have noticed the lack of a 1st level row in the earlier chart. Second, I do question whether it might be harder for a wizard to get smarter vs. a fighter getting beefier vs. a cleric getting shrewder vs. a thief getting sprightlier vs. an elf getting… whatever. You get my drift, right? I think it should all be equal, to be honest. This brings us to the next chart, which gives flat XP costs for everyone across the board. To avoid abuses, only one stat can be improved by one increment at each experience level. Otherwise, I can see clever fellows “dumping” 1,500 XP at 1st level, and boosting a bunch of stats overnight. There’s no logical reason for this. It also guarantees that no 36th level character could possibly claim “Yahtzee 18s!”

Ability Scores: Actual XP Costs

This table essentially uses the percentages listed earlier, applied to the cleric’s experience table. The totals can be used directly, without bothering with the math, giving all character classes the same costs. DMs are free to tinker with these numbers—that’s not the issue here. The above is just a suggestion. Playtest should help determine the best combination. 

Higher? Lower? You tell me.

“Boo, hiss! There’s no cost for pushing stats above 18!”

I’m not necessarily against this idea, but it’s gonna cost ya! Getting stats within the range of epic heroes, monsters, deities, or immortals (as your game world goes), just isn’t the same as dealing with what belongs in the realm of puny mortals. Yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way. First off, I would not allow this until 8th level is reached. Second, this can only be done every 5 experience levels, therefore at levels 8, 13, 18, 23, 28, and 33. Third, charge 84,000 XP for each improvement. Fourth, no mortal score exceeds 19 because the cost would logically increase enough to bump most characters to their previous experience levels. That’s a no-no. Therefore, anything beyond 19 remains the stuff of supernatural beings. Other means than these simple mechanics are needed to earn such legendary abilities (adventures, quests, artifacts, etc.)

“Hey, my paladin has a crappy Dex with these stupid rules!”

Well, yeah, if you’re using 1st Edition AD&D: your paladin and other demanding specialty classes will have a real challenge. Is there a way to get around this? Sure there is, he says with a wicked grin. For each extra point above the initial 66, permanently add +20% to all the costs listed above, up to and including level 9. In effect, further ability score improvements become more expensive for much of the character’s existence, in exchange for a more illustrious beginning. Rock on!

“This makes the +10% XP bonus for high stats harder to get.”

Of course it does. But as far as I’m concerned, I’d drop that rule anyway. All it does is reward the gifted and punish the others. Why is that? I would think that a more-challenged character ought to be rewarded at least as much as a less-challenged one for the same achievement, perhaps even more. So, as long as prerequisites are respected, you could invert the XP bonus attribution, as follows:

Prime Requisite 12 or less: +10% Experience Bonus
Prime Requisite 13-15: +5% Experience bonus
Prime Requisite 16+: Go Fish!

So, there you have it. With 66 points, your character can now easily get that +10% XP bonus, which in turn helps improve stats more quickly… and then things slow down again. Serves you right, you mooch.